The 26 July 2022 marks 6 months since I first started working on plot 8B. I had received the email from the local Parish Council on the 7 January to advise me that a plot had become available. Following site inspections, acceptance of the offer and the signing of the Tenancy Agreement, my first day of the plot was Wednesday 26 January.
The general state of the plot was poor, it had not been properly attended for a few years, with just the occasional bed being turned over. The previous year a couple of ladies had taken on the site and apparently planted some leaks and pumpkins and were never seen again! So there was some work to do just to make sense of the plot.
Google maps was very useful in providing me with an idea of what it had looked like, at least showing me where some of the beds had been. On a closer inspection, it was possible to make out some of these old beds. However, the bigest issue was the amount of brambles and bracken that had overwhelmed large parts of the site.
I remember very clearly, after the first week on the plot having this overwhelming feeling of dread, not knowing which way to turn. There was so much to do and I just didn’t really know where to start, this coupled with poor health was getting me down.. Time to stop and draw breath.
I had been ‘hacking away at the bracken and brambles and it just lay strewn across the site. So, first thing was to clear all the rubbish to the front of the site where I could light a fire. Whilst clearing the site and making it look tidier I noticed how easy the weeds were being raked off of the old pre-existing beds. In fact it was possible to clear 3/4 of the beds by rake alone!
Within 2 weeks I had 3 beds fully cleared and weeded, I was now in a position to start planting when the time came. Added to this I was also laying down weed fabric and tarpaulin on areas that I had cut back but did not want to use yet. All of a sudden there was calm in the chaos and order in the mayhem, I was on top of it.
I built a large brassica cage from MDPE and 7mm x 5mm netting. From an old bed divan base I created two environmesh cages for the carrots and alliums. I emptied an old cast iron bath of stagnant water and lifted it out of the ground to create a raised bed for salad greens.
As the spring progressed I started planting out my first crops and within a short while I had 1st early and main crop potatoes, 4 varieties of cabbage, cauliflower, chard, kale and brussel sprouts. French climbing beans, runner beans, dwarf beans, broad beans and peas. Carrots, parsnips, swede, pak choi, butternut squash, pumpkins and lettuce. Plus a pre-existing rhubarb plant.
Considering my initial intention had been to bring two beds into production and grow some potatoes, beans, peas and a few cabbages. On reflection, I have actually surprised myself especially given the way I felt after just one week on the plot!
One of the long awaited additions to the plot was going to be the polytunnel. I have a small (1.2m x 1.2m) greenhouse at home which I have already outgrown. Once permission was gained from the Parish Council, I started clearing the area ready for the tunnel. However, this turned out to be a longer job than I could ever have imagined.
The polytunnel is going at the back of the plot along side the shed. This had been the previous tennants compost area and had been left to go wild. Clearing this area, was easier said than done. Three quarters of it cleared fairly easily however, the last quarter was an absolute pain. It appeared to have been a cold frame made from an old window which had been smashed and then the whole thing used as a dumping ground. Six wheelbarrows of rubbish and one refuse bin full of broken glass later, the area was finally cleared.
Eventually, the area was cleared and laid with weed fabric in prepartion for the build. This will take place over the next month or so, with the aim of being ready for the autumn and winter.
So where do we go from here?
This year has proven that the large original beds are not practical because I cannot weed without climbing into the beds. Therefore, the long term aim is to creat a series of sixteen 2.4m x 1.2m raised beds up through the main part of the plot with four smaller 2m x 1.2m beds at the top of the left hand side. Between the new compost area and the smaller beds will go a 3m x 2m fruit cage.
The plan is to start at the front of the plot where I already have one area covered in tarpaulin and will shortly have the rest covered. Once I am ready to start work, maybe some time in September, I will remove all carpet from this area and level it all off before marking out the 80cm wide footpaths with weed fabric. Then the raised beds will be built and prepared ready for next spring.
This process will slowly migrate up through the old beds to the top of the plot until all sixteen beds are built. At the same time, the area on the top left of the plot will have the four raised beds built with weed fabric paths between.
Throughout the whole process of bringing the allotment this far, I have used vegplotter.com as my planning tool. It has allowed me to plan various layouts so see what would and would not work on the plot. I calculated the numbers of plants I needed for each crop and even gave me the optimum harvesting date. Yes, I could have done this on graph paper but vegplotter makes it faster and easier – it is the perfect planning tool.
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